In October 1958, a teenage boy walked into a music shop in San Fernando. He bought a sleek Gibson ES-225 electric guitar.
Tourists sometimes look incredulously at shop owner Ed Intagliata when he reveals the Pacoima teenager’s name. But then he just shows them the receipt, signed by Ritchie Valens’ mother.
Founded in 1948 by Albert Cassell, the music shop is a San Fernando Valley institution. Originally housed in a shopping center on San Fernando Road, it relocated in the mid-’80s to the corner of Maclay Avenue and Lucas Street. Since being featured in the movie “Wayne’s World,” it has drawn tourists from every inch of the planet, becoming a local museum as much as a place of business.
Through a partnership with local schools, Intagliata helps parents who struggle to afford a musical instrument for their children. The Play-It-Forward program lets some of them pay only $1.
“It’s not a giveaway charity thing. The kids don’t know a dollar from a hundred dollars,” Intagliata said. “All they know is: My dad bought me a guitar. I’m going to learn it.”
The program, he said, would not be possible without the generosity of customers. He cited one former student who had paid for 10 lessons before having to move away. Instead of asking for a refund, she donated the lessons to students in the program.
“People wanna help. They really do,” said Intagliata. “I’m not looking to be the biggest, baddest music store around. We do a good business. I make a living for myself and my family, and we pay our bills. And I’m happy with that.”
Intagliata came to California from Connecticut as a child and grew up in affluent Palos Verdes. He was appointed to run the shop by his father, a now retired aerospace engineer. His father purchased Cassell’s Music in 1978, after seeing an ad for it in the Los Angeles Times. His hope, said Intagliata, was to provide his eight children with a place to work during their college years.
At the time, Intagliata was working in the customer service department at Sears, where clients habitually returned worn shoes and dried-up cans of paint. He had a degree in music from Cal State Fullerton.
His father, said Intagliata, “had to put up some heavy collateral to buy the store. I didn’t find that out till later, that he was putting his future on my shoulders.” Intagliata was 24 — the second oldest of the Intagliata children. His employees were his siblings, which could cause a little tension.
“One of my brothers thought he could do his homework on the counter here,” he said. “And I told him: ‘No, man, no. You do that at home.’”
Nowadays, Intagliata, 64, welcomes everyone who comes through his glass doors and greets the mailman with a fist bump. To better serve some of his Latino customers, he made it a point to learn Spanish — using the language to communicate in a suburban San Fernando Valley city where, in the 1940s, people of Mexican descent had to sit in the balconies of movie theaters.
Intagliata enjoys peppering visitors with trivia questions. “Did you know,” he asks, “that Ritchie Valens’ real name was Richard Valenzuela; that he was buried at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery ; that ‘La Bamba’ was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress?”
A scene in “Wayne’s World” filmed at the shop in the ‘90s helped put Cassell’s Music on the map. In the movie, the protagonist, played by Mike Myers, makes repeated visits to the shop just to gaze longingly at a white 1964 Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. Nearly three decades later, Intagliata still has wide-eyed tourists pop into his shop every summer. Sometimes they try to re-enact the scene in which Wayne finally takes the instrument in his arms. On Facebook, Intagliata has posted photos of smiling tourists from Florida, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Australia, Argentina and El Salvador.
In addition to a framed photo autographed by the actors in “Wayne’s World,” the walls of Cassell’s Music are covered with mementos showcasing Intagliata’s customers. Thank-you cards from recipients of the Play-It-Forward program adorn one area. On another, he keeps a framed article that recounts a visit from The Master’s Kids, a pre-kindergarten program at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley.
The visit, documented by Music & Sound Retailer, highlights Hannah Carmichael, who went on a field trip to Cassell’s Music when she was 4 years old. Years later, she returned to the shop as a chaperone with her daughter’s class. That day, she brought a photo with her, taken by her mother at the shop in 1993. In the article, Intagliata proudly notes: “Mrs. Carmichael told me that, out of all the field trips her preschool had taken, the visit to the music store was the only one she remembered.”
Julie Chung of Granada Hills has accompanied three of her five children on field trips to Cassell’s Music. Normally, she said, parents of 4-year-olds make for anxious chaperones. Their main goal is to ensure that the little ones do not touch — and break — anything.
But that fear dissipates at Cassell’s Music, she said. During the field trips, the children and their parents get the store to themselves, and Intagliata starts off by playing the same tune using woodwinds, strings, percussion and brass.
“So that the children can hear the difference,” said Chung. Following the presentation, he leads the handsy children to a table full of instruments. “Go on,” he says. “Give it a try.”
None of Chung’s children have taken up music classes. Still, she said, “I know many kids who’ve been inspired by Ed. And I’m talking about entire families, generations.”
Esteban Andrade, a freshman at Cal State Northridge who began taking violin classes at Cassell’s Music in kindergarten, is one of them. Back then, said Intagliata, “we just called him ‘Stevie.’ Now, he’s this accomplished musician, and he’s got all these mariachi groups trying to recruit him. Makes me real proud.”
Andrade is one of three brothers, all of whom have taken classes at Cassell’s Music. Their father, Francisco Andrade, described Intagliata and his store as “indispensable.”
“Whether it’s support with acquiring new instruments or teaching us how to make small repairs, there’s always this generosity,” he said. “Without Ed, we would’ve had to go out of our community to provide for our boys.”
Intaglatia has begun flirting with retirement. He’d like to travel, he said.
“I want to see your Vienna, your German towns and Italy, all the places where classical music flourished. I want to go to the Holy Land, all the biblical sites,” he said. “Maybe go to the South Pacific and get one of those bungalows over the ocean — God, that looks great.”
But he can’t pinpoint when that will all take place. “I just don’t know,” he said. “I’m having so much fun right now.”
Outside of Cassell’s Music, Intaglatia keeps busy with more music. He plays bass on his church’s worship team, directs “a small choir” and sings with the Santa Clarita Master Chorale. He also brushes up on the seven instruments he knows how to play, including the accordion — his “first love.”
“It’s a good conversation piece,” Intagliata said. “People always ask, ‘What’s your favorite instrument?’ And I tell them, ‘Well, you gotta guess.’”
He laughed. “They never guess.”
As cars whizzed past the intersection where he’s worked for decades, Intagliata pulled up two images on his computer.
“You gotta see this,” he said.
On the left side of the screen, he had a picture of Sophia, a local student and the first recipient of the Play-It-Forward program. With a shy smile, she holds her first guitar with both arms. On the right, Sophia, now in middle school, juggles two instruments: her first and a blue electric guitar.
“She outgrew the first one,” Intaglatia explained. “Wants to play electric now, which is great. And you know what she did? She says, ‘Here. Give my old guitar to someone who needs it.’” Intagliata said, his face beaming. “Can you believe that?”